The Seattle Seahawks are headed to the playoffs. That much is known. What isn't known yet is whether they will be the NFC's top seed and enjoying home-field advantage, or if they will be the No. 5 seed and forced to endure three grueling road games to try to get to the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks have gotten to this point largely because they have assembled one of the deepest rosters in the past decade. They've had players miss time because of injuries and suspension, and the backups have stepped right in and performed.
This creates a situation where individual players aren't as critical to the team's success as people might expect, but that doesn't mean that all players are equally valuable.
Here are the seven most important players to Seattle's playoff success:
All stats are from NFL.com.
Nose tackle Brandon Mebane is perhaps the most unheralded out of all the great players on Seattle's defense. His ability to adeptly cover two gaps against the run while also generating pressure against the pass is extremely rare.
Mebane's presence in the center of Seattle's defensive line sets the tone for the defensive front seven. He's a powerful presence who is able to keep blockers off of Seattle's linebackers. Seattle has the depth to absorb the loss of most any of its defensive players, but Mebane is irreplaceable at nose tackle.
With Sidney Rice out for the year, and Percy Harvin still not available because of his hip injury, the Seahawks have had serious problems at wide receiver. Add in that Jermaine Kearse might not play this week because of an injured ankle, and the Seahawks become absolutely paper-thin at wide receiver.
All of this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on wide receiver Doug Baldwin. He has been the team's best and most consistent receiver since the Rice injury. He is also the only receiver who has been able to regularly get open in the passing game.
When the Seahawks defense is at its best, it is because the pass rush is terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. More often than not, defensive end Michael Bennett is the player applying the pressure.
Bennett has had a tremendous year. He's been one of the most productive pass-rushers in the entire NFL as an inside pass-rusher. He's also been very good against the run when he's lined up on the outside. Bennett is a player with no real backup. There is no one else on the roster who can do what he does.
Okung has been the best player on Seattle's embattled offensive line. The team struggled to protect quarterback Russell Wilson when Okung was out with a toe injury earlier in the year, and the pass protection became considerably better once he returned.
The Seahawks received a scare last Sunday when Okung left the game after aggravating his toe injury. Head coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that Okung will be able to play this week but might be limited throughout the playoffs because of the injury. The Seahawks simply cannot afford to lose Okung again this season.
The Seahawks have amazing depth at cornerback now that Walter Thurmond is back from his suspension. An injury at the position wouldn't be crippling, as long as it wasn't Richard Sherman. The All-Pro is a difference-maker for the Seahawks, even when compared to his teammates at the position.
Sherman's eight interceptions lead the entire NFL and are two more than anyone else in the league. He has also arguably been the league's best player in coverage again this season. On a defense loaded with stars, Sherman is probably the unit's best player.
Seattle's offense begins and ends with quarterback Russell Wilson. The days of this team being driven by Marshawn Lynch and the running game are in the past. It has been six weeks since running back Lynch has averaged at least four yards per carry. Wilson must now carry Seattle's offense.
This isn't a case where the Seahawks just need him healthy. The Seahawks need Wilson to play well. If last Sunday's loss to the Cardinals demonstrated anything, it was that the Seahawks don't have the talent on offense to overcome an off-day by their quarterback.
Everything Seattle does defensively starts with free safety Earl Thomas. His ability to adeptly play as a single-high safety on every play is the basis of the Seahawks' defensive scheme. It essentially gives the Seahawks an extra player to use up near the line of scrimmage to stop the run or rush the passer.
Thomas already has 103 tackles, which is second among players at his position this season. Add in five interceptions and two forced fumbles, and it is easy to see why Thomas has been in the discussion for the Defensive Player of the Year award this season.